Done Cookin’: Putin’s Chef Moves to Belarus [UPDATE-1]

[NB: check the byline, thanks. Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

If you have a bead on what transpired in Russia from Friday through Saturday, you’re ahead of most folks.

I’ll let VOA’s Steve Herman give a tick-tock:

1:14 p.m. ET / 8:14 p.m. Moscow —

1:16 p.m. ET / 8:16 p.m. Moscow —

1:29 p.m. ET / 8:29 p.m. Moscow —

What the hell happened?

There’s a bit more in the audio:

Dmitri @[email protected]
Prigozhin says it’s over:

“They were going to dismantle PMC Wagner. We came out on 23 June to the March of Justice. In a day, we walked to nearly 200km away from Moscow. In this time, we did not spill a single drop of blood of our fighters. Now, the moment has come when blood may spill. That’s why, understanding the responsibility for spilling Russian blood on one of the sides, we are turning back our convoys and going back to field camps according to the plan.”

Audio: https://t.me/concordgroup_official/1303
1:31 PM · Jun 24, 2023

The recent order for mercenaries to sign a contract with Russia’s defense ministry does appear to be a trigger. It would be tantamount to disbanding Wagner group since its personnel would be directly subordinate to Russia’s Defense Ministry and not Prigozhin and Wagner leadership.

Many, MANY people are still scratching their heads about Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko acting as a peace broker.

For my part I thought Lukashenko had flown out of Belarus late last night Belarus time according to reports in social media. Indeed, The New Voice of Ukraine reported he’d left just after midnight and arrived in Turkey at 5:15 a.m. local time after taking a wide detour:

According to the map, the plane tried to bypass Russia’s Krasnodar and Stavropol Krais, flew over the Caspian Sea and then reached the Turkish resort via Georgia.

That’s nearly twice as long as necessary to get to Turkey, which one might do if concerned about missile launchers in or near eastern Ukraine/western Russia.

Why Lukashenko, who appears to be a rather inert figure save for Putin’s puppetmastery, especially since he’d been rumored to be quite sick for weeks?

At 2:20 p.m. ET the advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine tweeted —

Anton Gerashchenko (@[email protected])

Former supporter of Prigozhin about alleged agreement between Prigozhin and Russian authorities:

“Now it’s finally allowed to say the three things he’s been promised. 1. Shoigu’s resignation. 2. Amnesty for “musicians” [Wagner mercenaries]. 3. The possibility to return to Africa. I’m sure that in reality he signed his own death sentence. And Wagner PMC as well, of course.”

In general, many “Wagner war correspondents” are extremely disappointed with the situation.

Some publicly resign. And curse Prigozhin.

2:20 PM · Jun 24, 2023

To be fair, let’s acknowledge before Prigozhin’s feint over the last day either Putin and/or Shoigu wanted to seize control of Wagner group personnel directly to augment what’s left of Russia’s armed forces.

But Prigozhin signing his own death warrant? Hmm — who’d execute it?

In the course of sorting through all the feeds and news articles related to the last 24 hours in Ukraine and Russia, I ran across several social media reports regarding the parties to the negotiations with Prigozhin. It contained a tidbit which at the time the deal was reported didn’t seem important.

Now I realize it may have been critical to understanding why Prigozhin traded away what looked like his leverage by stopping the march to Moscow and reversing Wagner personnel’s direction back to Rostov and the front.

In these reports it was noted Lukashenko was not the actual negotiator but that the other participant was key to the process — Tula’s governor Aleksey Dyumin. Lukashenko may instead have been a guarantor of the deal while Dyumin, a former member of FSB, GRU, presidential guard, and deputy defense minister, handled the negotiations.

Tula Oblast is a province located in Russia’s Central Federal District; its capital city, Tula, is located about 140 miles/224 km south of Moscow.

The M4 highway on which Wagner group personnel convoy worked its way toward Moscow runs right through the heart of Tula Oblast.

One could see why Tula’s governor might have a vested interest in negotiating a de-escalation of tensions since the convoy might begin to run into conflict in the middle of the oblast.

But if negotiations were between Lukashenko, Dyumin, and Prigozhin, why was Lukashenko given top billing with Dyumin’s role rarely mentioned in media?

This article in Meduza from last autumn, focusing on the relationship between Prigozhin and Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, also spells out their connections to Dyumin:

Meduza’s sources also say that Kadyrov’s and Prigozhin’s criticisms of the army are silently supported by “a group of ambitious young FSO-men” — that is, Putin’s former security officers, the Governor of Tula Alexey Dyumin and the former head of the Yaroslavl region, Dmitry Mironov, who is now an assistant to the President. According to sources close to the President’s Office, Mironov and Dyumin often talk and meet in person. Sources in the Yaroslavl and Tula regions confirm this information.

A source in Tula’s regional administration points out that, even before the war, Evgeny Prigozhin collaborated with the local government – for example, by bringing political consultants to manage elections. The Insider (a media project deemed a “foreign agent” and “undesirable” in Russia) has also written about Dyumin’s connection to Prigozhin.

According to two sources close to the President’s Office, Ramzan Kadyrov got to know both Dyumin and Prigozhin when they were still Putin’s bodyguards. Apparently, Kadyrov was friendly with both of them – and even called Dyumin his “elder brother.”

“FSO men” — members of the Federal Protective Service which includes Putin’s guards. What an interesting common link.

Lukashenko is also connected to Dyumin economically; Belarus and Tula Oblast have swapped commodities since a deal last autumn. It’s possible this is a means to get around sanctions on Russia though it’s not clear from financial reporting.

But Lukashenko has another relationship which hasn’t surfaced in all of today’s reporting. Belarus has been useful to Wagner group:

The last weeks of the 2020 presidential election campaign in Belarus brought an unexpected development: on July 29th, Belarusian authorities arrested 33 Russian citizens who allegedly belonged to the Wagner Group. While Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko used the story of the arrested Wagner operatives for his election campaign, accusing them of planning to interfere with the elections, independent sources revealed that, in fact, the Wagner Group has been using Belarus regularly as a transit country to various operational theaters; thus their presence on Belarusian territory was by no means extraordinary.

Wagner uses Belarus to move to its other operations and programs while it also proved useful as a scapegoat — or willing partner — in the 2020 election.

One of the sources which mentioned Dyumin was the real negotiator also said he was the likely next Russian Defense Minister.

Which means that Dyumin may have had a vested interest in looking useful to Putin, making sure the negotiations included the removal of Sergei Shoigu as Defense Minister, and that Prigozhin would get something out of this show of force demanding Shoigu’s ouster.

Was all of this just theater by a handful of buddies who had shared histories in order to shift one of them into Defense Minister — the guy who’d likely award contracts to mercenaries?

~ ~ ~

One other critical point to keep in mind about Russian  private military companies (PMCs) like Wagner: they don’t technically exist in Russia. They’re not licensed in any way; the government looks the other way allowing weasel words to justify companies having their own security. They’re meant to be a means to do off-the-books work so they aren’t in public or government records.

By being off-the-books, Putin can opt for maximum plausible deniability while keeping head count and subsequent losses out of the public eye, undocumented by Russian Ministry of Defense in casualty reports.

Between this fact and the Defense Ministry’s move to consolidate head count between regular armed forces and PMCs, Putin and/or Russian military’s top brass can hide the mounting Russian casualties in Putin’s misbegotten war on Ukraine.

Prigozhin didn’t spell this out directly, but he did point out that he felt Wagner was going to be broken up. He made this seizure of his PMC public if not on the books, and he punctuated it with the march, ensuring the head count Wagner committed to this statement was in the public’s consciousness.

Which brings up another point: responsible as he was for the Internet Research Agency troll farm which has screwed with the U.S. through online influence operations since 2013, Prigozhin knows how to influence perception and public opinion even with this march on Moscow.

How much of the march was an influence operation?

How much of the subsequent negotiations and the response of other key players was an influence operation?

Who was the intended target of the operation(s), if that’s what Wagner group’s weekend’s march toward Moscow was?

What was the ultimate intent of the operation(s), assuming that’s what this was, apart from the concessions revealed to the public?

~ ~ ~

It will be quite some time before all the details fall into place to explain what really happened.

Ukrainians may be amused by some of it, may have taken advantage of the situation by pressing east along the front during the confusion, but Russian missiles continued to fall on Ukraine. Three died when Kyiv was hit though Ukraine’s air defenses managed to deter 80% of the attempted strikes.

The U.S. intelligence community, though, had information suggesting Prigozhin could attempt a coup two weeks ago.

At least one news report suggested this possibility the last week of May.

Let’s hope Ukraine had been informed and will continue to be informed about another potential coup. With Putin’s grip on power proven weak by Prigozhin, it’s more likely there will be more marches toward Moscow ahead, increasing confusion in Russia about its leadership, and improved opportunities to seize more of eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 11:45 A.M. 26-JUN-2023 —

Kevin Rothrock, managing editor at Meduza (English), reported Prigozhin uploaded an audio recording which was more than 11 minutes long some time before 10:30 a.m. ET/5:30 p.m. Moscow time. Rothrock has published both a Russian and an English transcript though both are AI generated.

This is the English transcript:

Today I opened the press service and received thousands of questions about the events. In order to avoid misunderstandings, I want to answer the main of these questions. First. What were the prerequisites for Masha Justice on 06/23/23? PMC “Wagner” is perhaps the most experienced and combat-ready unit in Russia, and possibly in the world. motivated, charged fighters who performed a huge number of tasks in the interests of the Russian Federation and always only in the interests of the Russian Federation, in Africa, in the Arab countries and around the world. Recently, this unit has achieved good results in Ukraine, having completed the most serious tasks.

As a result of the intrigues of ill-conceived decisions, this unit was supposed to cease to exist on July 1, 23. A council of commanders gathered, which brought all the information to the fighters. No one agreed to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense, since everyone knows very well from the current situation of their experience during the NWO that this will lead to a complete loss of combat capability. Experienced fighters, experienced commanders will simply be smeared and will actually go to the meat, where they will not be able to use their combat potential and combat experience. Those fighters who decided that they were ready to move to the Ministry of Defense did. But this is the minimum amount, calculated by a percentage or two. All the arguments that were in order to keep the Wagner PMC safe and sound were used.

But none were implemented. in an attempt to enter into any other structure where we can really be useful. We were categorically against what they want to do. At the same time, the decision to transfer to the Ministry of Defense and understanding our attitude to close the Wagner PMC was made at the most inopportune moments. Nevertheless, we put the equipment on the grass, collected everything that was needed, made an inventory and were going, if the decision was not made, to leave on June 30 in a column to Rostov and publicly hand over the equipment near the headquarters of the NWO. Despite the fact that we did not show any aggression, we were attacked by missiles and immediately after that the helicopters worked. About 33 fighters of PMC “Wagner” were killed. Some were injured.

This prompted the Council of Commanders to immediately decide that we should move out immediately. I made a statement in which I said that we are not going to detect aggression in any way. But if we are hit, we will take it as an attempt to destroy and give an answer. During the entire march, which lasted 24 hours, one of the columns went to Rostov, the other in the direction of Moscow. During the day we covered 780 kilometers. Not a single soldier on earth was killed. We regret that we were forced to strike at air assets, but these assets were dropping bombs and delivering missile strikes. During the day we covered 780 kilometers, short of 200 small kilometers to Moscow. During this time, all military facilities that were along the road were blocked and neutralized. Nobody died, I repeat once again, from those who were on the ground. And this was our task. Among the fighters of the Wagner PMC, several people were wounded and two dead, who joined us, military personnel and the Ministry of Defense, of their own free will. None of the fighters of PMC “Wagner” was forced to this campaign, and everyone knew his ultimate goal.

The purpose of the campaign was to prevent the destruction of the PMC “Wagner” and to bring to justice those persons who, through their unprofessional actions, made a huge number of mistakes during the SVO. It was demanded by the public. All the servicemen who saw us during the march supported us. We did not reach about 200 kilometers to Moscow, having covered 780 kilometers in one and the other direction. We stopped at the moment when the first assault detachment, which had approached 200 kilometers from Moscow, deployed its artillery, reconnoitered the area, and it was obvious that at that moment a lot of blood would be shed. Therefore, we felt that the demonstration of what we were going to do, it is sufficient. And our decision to turn around was two major factors.

The first factor is that we did not want to shed Russian blood. The second factor is that we went to demonstrate our protest, and not to overthrow the government in the country. At this time, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko extended his hand and offered to find solutions for the further work of Wagner PMC in legal jurisdiction. The columns turned back and went to the field camps. I want to point out that our march of justice showed a lot of the things that we talked about earlier. Serious security problems throughout the country. We blocked all the military units of the airfield that were in our way. In 24 hours, we covered the distance that corresponds to the distance from the launch site of Russian troops on February 24, 22 to Kyiv and from the same point to Uzhgorod.

Therefore, if the action on February 24, 22, at the time of the start of the special operation, was carried out by a unit in terms of the level of training, in terms of the level of moral composure and readiness to perform tasks, like the Wagner PMC, then perhaps the special operation would last a day. It is clear that there were other problems, but we showed the level of organization that the Russian army should correspond to. And when on June 23-24 we walked past Russian cities, civilians met us with the flags of Russia and with the emblems and flags of the Wagner PMC. They were all happy when we came and when we passed by. Many of them still write words of support, and some are disappointed that we stopped, because in the march of justice, in addition to our struggle for existence, they saw support for the fight against bureaucracy and other ailments that exist in our country today.

These are the main questions that I can answer in order to exclude rumors both in Russian social networks and the media and in foreign networks. So, we started our march because of justice. On the way, on the ground, we did not kill a single soldier. In a day, only 200 kilometers did not reach Moscow, they entered and completely took control of the city of Rostov. The civilians were glad to see us. We showed a master class on how February 24, 22 should look like. We did not have the goal of overthrowing the existing regime and the legally elected government, which has been said many times. We turned around in order not to shed the blood of Russian soldiers.

There’s a lot of fuzziness in this with regards to the terms of the Ministry of Defense’s subsumption of private military companies’ personnel (and possibly assets?).

Also a lot of fuzziness in this regarding the agreement Prigozhin negotiated to end his march to Moscow.

Up to now there have been weasel words with regard to the number of Russian armed forces killed/not killed. This transcript offers more specificity though I haven’t seen much information about the aircraft shooting on Wagner personnel during the march.

Assuming this is a legitimate audio recording and not an AI-generated fake from which an AI-generated transcript has been produced, there may be a dig at Shoigu and the Russian military industrial complex with the bit about bureaucracy. Shoigu is not a soldier by training and experience but a bureaucrat.

Another dig likely aimed at Putin: the reception of Wagner group by Russian citizens. Putin gets highly-produced crowds, not spontaneous pop-ups.

Watch this video pulled together by RFE/RFL showing Prigozhin and Wagner personnel leaving Rostov-on-Don late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. That’s in part what Prigozhin made reference to in his audio.

It’s also the real, lingering threat to Putin. The video looks much more like an extremely popular politician leaving a campaign event.

There have been wisecracks made about Russia’s army being the second most powerful army in Russia and the third most powerful in Ukraine, implying Wagner group had more clout than Russia’s armed forces.

Once Wagner has left Russia, Belarus may have a more powerful army than Russia. Food for thought.

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161 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Mutiny or coup? Some say what Prigozhin did with Wagner personnel was a mutiny. I lean toward coup because Russia’s power structure was changed by this event.

    What say you?

    • Kope a Pia says:

      It was a Kabuki Coup and in mafia terms it was ended when Lukashencho guaranteed the outcome of negotiations between Prigozhin and Putins Consigliere Dyumin.

    • Opiwannn says:

      Has it been made official, or at least “independently confirmed” by someone(s) believable that Dyumin is now ‘Defense Minister-Elect’ or whatever you want to call it? I’m having a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff among all the words flying around today (outside of here).

      • Rayne says:

        Have seen nothing of that yet though I have seen analysis suggesting Putin wouldn’t take immediate action on anything Prigozhin demanded because it would legitimize Prigozhin’s march whether mutinous/seditionist, and doing so would come at the expense of Putin’s remaining political power.

        Dyumin, having been a former Deputy of Defense Minister to Shoigu as well as a lieutenant general, would be a natural choice as Defense Minister which works to Putin’s benefit if/when he should yank Shoigu’s job.

        The one piece I can’t find in all the chaff is how much of Shoigu’s situation is bound up in racism. Shoigu has been quite deft in keeping his job in spite of all the fuckup across MoD and Russia’s defense industry, but it’s damned hard to tell how much fuck-upery is pure corruption, how much is Russian culture (including so much alcohol abuse that Prigozhin expected little reaction on a drunken Friday night), and how much is laid at Shoigu’s door because it’s easy to blame a Tuvan ethnic minority.

        • Opiwannn says:

          Good lord, it never even occurred to me that “everyone who matters is utterly trashed on a Friday night” was even a thing, much less something one plans for. Thanks for the follow-up, Rayne.

    • Building Guy says:

      Great post.

      Prigozhin called Putin’s hand. From all of the infighting over the last several weeks it seems obvious he was being set up to take the fall by MoD and/or others.

      Putin signaled his buy in by ordering the PMC to be folded into the RU forces. Cut off from the spoils, Prigozhin doubled down In carefully parsed accusations about military incompetence and played his ace; Caesar crossing the Rubicon.

      Would have enjoyed the Russian Orthodox version of High Noon, but Putin is as much a coward as Trump.

      Assassinating Prigozhin would trigger civil strife. I have zero faith in any principled revolt, but Putin’s team has brought little more than poverty and shame. Wagner PMC has connected with the since of patriotism that is required for their survival.

    • BRUCE F COLE says:

      I’m of a mind that it was staged in order for Ukraine to be tempted heed the call of the PRV who’ve been fighting a semi-guerilla action in S Rus for a couple months. When the strung out Wagner convoy (great military tactic, right?) made its way toward Moscow, the RVC and the FRL made a siren call for Ukraine to step into the breach, across the boarder. There are some of the Ukrainian nazis in that group, as I understand, as well. Prigozhin’s commentary about the Russian invasion pretext being bullshit was another shiny object to juice up the Urainians into thinking Putin will be neutralized in terms of the war effort, as well — perhaps.

      If the Ukrainians had been that stupid, they’d have handed Putin his tactical nuke pretext (in his own mind) for defending Russian soil against a NATO-allied aggressor.

      Just a theory. The “battle of Rostov on Don” was a joke with no punch line. There’s a video on Telegram of Prigozhin having tea with the Regional commandant and another guy, talking with each other like they are discussing soccer standings, or what their kids are up to these days. And the “attack” itself was basically a stroll into the lobby and an usuring to the deck out back for tea and crumpets.

      And then there was that miles long, strung out convoy to Moscow, a bona fide drone shooting gallery.

      And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Belarus now a much more threating-to-Kyiv shadow at the other end of the country? And is Prig going to be the general for that front going forward?

      • Ravenclaw says:

        The Belarussian military comprises about 50,000 personnel, mostly conscripts serving 18 month stints, is organized along rigid Soviet lines, uses mainly old Soviet equipment, and needs to maintain internal order and border security as well as anything else it undertakes. I don’t think this poses a major threat to Ukraine, though an attack would force some units to be redeployed until the Belarussians were routed.

          • Ravenclaw says:

            Oh, not forgotten at all! Basically what I meant by “maintain internal security.” Send the troops abroad and watch the regime fall. Not in Lukashenko’s best interest as long as there are lamp-posts in Minsk.

    • Vinnie Gambone says:

      If i were Priggy, I’d make a move to take the nukes Belarus.
      Also. suprised they didn’t help themselves to supplies from bases in Rostov.
      That is not very Russian of them .
      They turned back when they learned there was no Trump Hotel in Moscow as they been promised.

      More seriously, wonder how many of those on the march were from the areas they were marching through.

      • Rayne says:

        First, if Prigozhin were to take the nukes, he’d lose political legitimacy he wants.

        Second, why would a PMC in the upper echelon take any supplies intended for the Russian army if one of Prigozhin’s complaints has been about the quantity and quality of supplies? Again, taking the stuff would damage political legitimacy.

        • Vinnie Gambone says:

          Rayne, logical arguments against Prigs taking control.of Nukes or scarfing supplies. Obviously i am TOMA . However, as we all continue to guess WTF is really going on, whether this is a set up of sorts, the fact that Belarus took delivery of the nukes 6/14 and then took delivery of Wagner 10 days later may be a reason to worry. If Priggy did get them and did use even one, Putin avoids blame and it totally changes the game. I am not alone in the what if’n going on. These are chess moves. The whole point of the PMC” s is to sidestep blame. if a nuke comes from Belarus putin has Wagner to blame. Again, TOMA, but the nukes arriving and Wagner arriving shortly after may be part of as of now, an unknown plan.

    • Rayne says:

      I haven’t seen or heard of any guarantee. You’ll see in the last related thread commenters suggesting there was a threat made to Prigozhin’s/Wagner members’ families, but there’s nothing concrete.

      Prigozhin offers the means to bypass sanctions with his mining interests on the Africa continent. What happens to that if Prigozhin is defenstrated?

        • RipNoLonger says:

          Been in common parlance since there were windows. Still a fun visual. I guess “infenestration” might be another. My old favorite in grade school (1950s) “antidisestablishmentarianism”. German don’t get no better than this!

    • Kope a Pia says:

      I don’t see any reason for Prigozhin to remain in Belarus unless he is either locked down or has a death wish. I doubt he has the latter, if he did he could have just continued the march toward Moscow.

      • Rayne says:

        I don’t think he is (or can be) confined to Belarus. Damned hard to oversee diamond mines from there.

        Based on what defenses looked like in Moscow, I doubt he’d have had a problem. It wouldn’t have helped his image with some factions, and it certainly would have hurt Putin’s.

      • Rayne says:

        Too few ask why Prigozhin would fulfill his end of the deal and make himself look obedient when the other party to the agreement has yet to fulfill any part of their end — that the public can see.

        • quickbread says:

          For me none of this adds up from any angle. If it was some kind of staged Potemkin coup, it seems so poorly calculated. They gained nothing in Ukraine from this move, and they gained nothing in terms of public perception. Why would Putin allow any false flag exercise that would make him look so weak? That seems completely out of character.

          And if it was a true effort to force a change in defense leadership, why would Prigozhin agree to go to Belarus just when he was gaining momentum? Surely he knows better than most that assurances are cheap, and he’ll eventually find his way out of a high window or poisoned.

          Why would Prigozhin sign away his force to become part of MOD? Wagner forces are better trained, better fed, less regulated by the state and probably also more likely to stay alive in comparison with Russia’s military troops. That move seems more like a betrayal of them than a boon. Maybe being under MOD contract gives them pensions they’d not have gotten through Wagner, but they’ll always be marked.

          Lastly, according to CNN today, Belarus claims to not know where Prigozhin is. Was he coerced into reading his surrender statement? If so, why hasn’t the Russian government trotted his capture out as a warning to others?

          • Rayne says:

            … They gained nothing in Ukraine from this move, and they gained nothing in terms of public perception. …

            Who is “they” here? There are more than one party with an agenda, and their agendas aren’t identical.

            … Why would Putin allow any false flag exercise that would make him look so weak? That seems completely out of character. …

            You mean this guy meeting with Shoigu and Gerasimov in March 2022?

            (That photo was published by WaPo with an op-ed, “Putin needs to watch his back” by Leon Aron, in which Aron warned about coup threats less than two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine.)

            I’m not even going to touch the rest of your comment.

        • wrog____ says:

          we don’t even know what the deal actually was.

          most likely to me is that, however this started, nothing went according to *anybody’s* plan and now all of the main players are improvising

          • timbozone says:

            Space has been created for the oligarchs and the Russian government, the power centers in Russia, to get a handle on what exactly went wrong in this affiar. We do not know if there are any Russians involved in some of this (in any number of capacities or incapacities) that are not right now on the run. Prigozhin is now supposedly going to exile in Belarus. We don’t know the disposition of his family in metropolitan areas of Russia. Heck, maybe by tonight, Putin and other various Russian clans will now have a better understanding of who is where and how safe everyone is… or is not. (“моя любимая кровь, где ты?”)

            There’s plenty of moving parts here that aren’t clearly understood for sure. In Prigozhin case, he’s simply saying he was against the way the Defense Minister and the head of Ukraine invasion force commanders were treating his men, that many of his men, and his mercenary commanders, etc, objected to it. That the disposition of what was to happen on July 1 was not clear and not being clarified sufficiently (not sweetened sufficiently?) for Wagner mercenary commanders and troops to have confidence that they’d be doing the right thing by submitting to direct military authority under Minister Shoigu and General Gerasimov.

            This last point, not having that confidence in those two Russian generals, is a striking thing to transmit publicly while troops are surrounding HQ South Rostov and heading towards Moscow, while Russian gunships are being shot out of the air on the M4 highway, and while front line Russian troops in Ukraine are fighting and dying… If Putin wanted to get rid of Shoigu or Gerasimov, >Putin< now has a "popular" reason to do so making the rounds, grounds so serious that troops (even if they were irregulars) were ready to publicly take action to bring attention to the problems. Not that Putin will move against his high ranking military and civilian generals immediately. It would be hard to separate his own choice of Ukrainian invasion from the competency at which it was carried out. But the issue of who is at fault for not supporting the troops sufficiently in Ukraine now has Shoigu and Gerasimov as popular targets. Someone important in Russian war culture is now in exile. Will others resign or also head into voluntary or internal exile to some far off place too? At least there's seemingly now more time to figure that out rather than shooting up various Russian cities with Russian ammo…

            Russian military within Ukraine does not seem to be in disarray from what we know as of tonight. That alone indicates that Putin and this deal with Prigozhin have at least settled things for the next 24-72 hrs. Officially, logistic and reserve troops, Southern Border command troops, etc are reputedly heading back to their bases, their reserve points; regular military order within the Russian military logistical effort return back to normal order. That's the current official position anyways.

    • Ravenclaw says:

      None! Since the Wagner group maintains operations elsewhere (controlling gold mines in Africa, that sort of thing) and has always used Belarus as a transit hub, it would be strange if Prigozhin didn’t attempt to rejoin his overseas forces. If so, look for many Wagner mercs to follow him rather than signing on for low pay and service alongside conscripts in the Russian Army. That’s assuming he makes it, doesn’t get his head on a pike first.

      • PJB2point0 says:

        Could all of this have just been a gambit by Pregozhin to get his force out of Ukraine while looking like the hero of Bakhmut? I can only assume he makes money by extracting resources from Africa, not fighting Ukrainians for a non-strategic city that has been demolished. It does not seem like he had designs on replacing Putin as head of the regime.

        • Rayne says:

          I’ve wondered that, but I don’t know what the terms were in re: MoD forcing PMCs’ personnel to sign contracts with MoD, nor the terms of the agreement Prigozhine made via Lukashenko/Dyumin wrt Wagner group’s personnel. The latter splits them into at least two groups, some of which will remain with MoD in Ukraine, but I don’t know how MoD makes the determination who’s in that group.

          The other question I have is the mining of the Zaporizhzhia nuke plant. Who did the mining — MoD or PMCs? Who’s going to execute that if the order is given to blow up the plant? Who’s going to mop up after? Does Prigozhin already know and that’s why he’s pulled this mutiny/shadow coup/theatrical production?

          I guess we’ll wait and see.

          • Rayne says:

            Kevin Rothrock reported Prigozhin made +11 minute audio recording published to Telegram. He’s pulled together AI-generated English-language transcript which I’ll post as an update.

            I don’t feel any more certain about the situation after reading it, though I don’t know if some of the fuzziness is based in translations multiple times over (once from audio, second time by AI).

            ADDER: Post updated with the transcript.

  2. Naomi Schiff says:

    Thank you for your research and dot-connecting; most of what I see in the media seems to be innocent acceptance of spin, perhaps unrelated to the underlying reality.

    • BardiJon says:

      “…innocent acceptance of spin…”
      Well said. I can only send my heartfelt thanks to Marcy and the regulars here that seem to counter that, um, tendency.

      [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

    • Rayne says:

      It’s rather ridiculous to accept what happened on face value when the key persons involved managed to throw a monkey wrench in the U.S. 2016 elections with their own spin, ensuring a Russian-sympathetic occupant in the White House.

      When wouldn’t they use spin to serve their aims?

      • BRUCE F COLE says:

        Bingo.

        The only thing we know for sure in this situation is that we don’t know anything for sure — except maybe that the Russian actors (among whom I’d include Lukashenko) are operating in an environment of desperation.

        One thing I didn’t factor into my guesswork above is Wagner’s African interests, to which you rightly give great weight. That is indeed Prigozhin’s real seat of power, or was before Ukraine. It’s an infrastructure of terror and theft-by-extraction that hasn’t just evaporated over the last year. Do we know if he left someone in charge of all that?

  3. EricMariposa says:

    Among other lessons, many philosophers from Sun Tzu through Machiavelli and Clausewitz have warned against mercenaries.

  4. Bluebird_25JUN2023_1317h says:

    I think the whole thing is fake. From the start its just felt like theater to me. A distraction for some reason.

    [Welcome to emptywheel. Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as there are more than one community members here named “Bluebird” or “bluebird.” Your name will be temporarily changed to reflect time/date of your first known comment until you’ve chosen a new name. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • SilverWolf501 says:

      Now that the Wagner force is in Belarus, will there be an attack on into Ukraine from the north. The whole exercise seems to me a switch and bait operation, with shades of the 1917 Czar troubles.

    • Ravenclaw says:

      Since there is no evidence of this (as opposed to US Intel reporting that they were aware of a likely disturbance & the long history of Prigozhin assailing the MoD leadership), you need to at least suggest a reasonable motive. Putin looks weak and timid, the MoD leadership look like utter fools, and Prigozhin has lost control of most of his army & is going to need a bit of luck to survive. Sure, he might have a plan for how to come out ahead, but that doesn’t make the whole thing a fake – at most, a feint.

      SilverWolf501: Why not just move the troops into Belarus, then?

  5. Bobby Gladd says:

    Good post. Thanks.

    I readily confess to having zero clue as to what’s really going on. The US/EU/NATO haters who overpopulate the commentariat over at Naked Capitalim are having a field day. A tsunami of contradictions, however erudite.

    Then, there’s our predictable clown car Republicans, claiming this is all one big disinformation false flag Op to take Hunter Biden out of the news. As was, of course, the sunken submersible tragedy.

    • Rayne says:

      Then, there’s our predictable clown car Republicans, claiming this is all one big disinformation false flag Op to take Hunter Biden out of the news. As was, of course, the sunken submersible tragedy.

      I’m sorry but what the actual fuck? I have to wonder if it’s an article of faith among GOP that they must sniff deeply from the same psychedelic-infused clown car gas tank every day.

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        A percentage of the GOP in office have a good grip on just how gullible there base is. The rest are gullible themselves.

        • Patient Observer says:

          Knaves and fools, Molly.

          Knaves spew what they know to be nonsense in order to manipulate and/or propitiate fools, who are in earnest.

      • punaise says:

        sniff deeply from the same psychedelic-infused clown car gas tank every day.

        they’re also huffing the tailpipe fumes.

      • posaune says:

        Good one, Rayne . . . “same psychedelic-infused clown car gas tank” — need to write that down.

      • Bruce Olsen says:

        Be nice to psychedelics. They are our friends.

        More likely, this crowd thinks that huffing CO2 gives them special, say, anti-woke powers. These are the people who believe the truly bizarre, child-abuse-for-adrenochrome story, so believing that CO2 grants them a sense of humor, or cures periodic gayness is a pretty short leap.

        This is why they all oppose zero emissions efforts–they’re concerned their supply will be cut off.

  6. DrFunguy says:

    Two thoughts:
    1. Maskirovka, enticing Ukraine to over-extend and become more vulnerable?
    This would mean the whole thing was theater… if so our media lapped it up.

    2. China is watching to see how vulnerable Putin is and always looking for advantage.
    These events seem to indicate very weak internal security and potential for the endgame scenarios Peterr laid out.
    Interesting times.

  7. Thomas_H says:

    Thank you for pulling these various resources together and for your own thoughts on this evolving situation.

  8. Molly Pitcher says:

    Thank you for the link to the ISW CT, a valuable resource.

    You asked “Prigozhin offers the means to bypass sanctions with his mining interests on the Africa continent. What happens to that if Prigozhin is defenstrated?”

    I certainly don’t see Ramzan Kadyrov as sophisticated enough to replace Prigozhin in these financial ‘ventures’. Kadyrov is more like The Hulk; Prigozhin’s super power has been his PR chops. He is a showman/ bully/ bullshitter like Trump, but with actual testicular fortitude.

  9. Sandwichman says:

    “…we walked to nearly 200km away from Moscow.”

    It seems to me that Prigozhin may have walked into a monkey trap. The ease with which Wagner took Rostov-on-Don and sped up the highway toward Moscow was suspicious. Either the whole thing was Kayfabe or the MoD set an irresistible trap for the Wagner Group by letting it penetrate far beyond their logistical capabilities. All Lukashenko would have to say is, “Nice banana you got there, Yevgeny, too bad you can’t get your hand out of the jar.”

    • Rayne says:

      Just how would it have looked if a guy and his 25K personnel, respected enough to be welcomed into Rostov-on-Don by its residents, were suddenly attacked by MoD?

      The same MoD which can’t muster enough personnel that it has to seize personnel from PMCs?

      Nah — especially not with Team Putin using the dolchstosslegende to characterize Prigozhin’s march while Prigozhin demands Shoigu’s job for damaging Russia. It’d take the kind of double jointedness even pretzels can’t manage.

      • Sandwichman says:

        I am not a military analyst and I can’t speak for the popularity or otherwise of the Wagner Group in Russia. I do know that there have been two very well-known military campaigns aimed at Moscow. You may have heard of them. One by Napoleon and one by Hitler. Napoleons, btw, was launched on June 24, 1812 and is documented in the greatest infographic of all time:
        https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/Minard.png

        “The data narrative told through the infographic is that of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, when his Grande Armée crossed the Neman (Niemen) River with over 400,000 men from across the French Imperial Empire, in what has been called the largest European force ever assembled up to that point. It crossed into what was then Russia on June 24th, 1812. Just under six months later, the Grande Armée returned over that same river on December 14th with just 10,000 men… a 97% loss of life.”

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah, and maybe Napoleon wasn’t thinking about running for president of France in a couple years, and Hitler didn’t give a fuck because hubris.

          You’re entitled to your opinion, like assholes everybody has one. That goes for your “greatest infographic of all time” which I personally believe pales next to XKCD’s 1732: Earth Temperature Timeline.

          • wasD4v1d says:

            You can actually cross reference those two graphics – notice the temperature on Tufte’s chart in Paris on Napoleon’s return…and where it sits at the end of the Little Ice Age on XKCD.

          • !noromo' says:

            And we must add Vizinni’s two classic blunders, because they absolutely correlate:
            “The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this; never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line! Aha ha ha ha….” (Sadly, he then died.)

            Rayne, small typo, “Prigoshin” in the 2nd graph after the tweets.

            [Typo fixed, thanks. /~Rayne]

          • Justlp34 says:

            That is a great infographic, Rayne. Although I must admit, I am a huge fan of Edward Tufte. I actually took a class of his on Envisioning Information back in the 90s.

        • Scott_in_MI says:

          It’s unlikely that Prigozhin would have been stopped by the sudden onset of a brutal Russian winter a couple of days after the summer solstice, but whatever.

          • timbozone says:

            “It began ‘snowing’ bullets. The Summer of our Discontent had commenced…” There are many ‘winters of the heart’ to describe if one looks hard enough; politics ain’t just “I’ve got a gun so imma start shooting if I don’t get my way!”

            While I don’t support the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nor these strongmen swirling around this Russian affair, I do support leadership skills that can broker more peaceful resolutions by searching for alternatives to bloodshed, particularly when that really counts. Such are worth noting and marveling at, even if it may only prove to be temporary.

        • Ravenclaw says:

          Oh, come on! Aside from the fact that this would have been a rebellion by locals, not an invasion, you are forgetting (1) the Mongols c. 1236, (2) the Golden Horde c.1382, (3) the Crimean Tatars c. 1571, (4) the Poles and Lithuanians c. 1610, and (5) the fact that Napoleon’s army did occupy the city.

  10. Ken Muldrew says:

    I wonder what the story is with those Russian helicopters being shot down and how that squares with Prigozhin’s claim that, “Now, the moment has come when blood may spill.” Surely there was some bleeding from the soldiers inside those helicopters.

    • Rayne says:

      Yeah. Not certain, but I wonder if there was a concern on Prigozhin’s part about loyalties within Russian Air Force versus ground forces. I haven’t run across anything which situates the air force commander Sergey Dronov for/against any faction in MoD or out.

      • John Paul Jones says:

        SFAIK Russia still has a lot of air assets and if the Air Force wanted to they could have taken Putin’s yelling out “traitor” as permission to launch strikes on Prigozhin’s columns. They didn’t. Worried about civilian casualties? Perhaps. But maybe the Air Force leadership decided to sit this one out until whatever it was got settled. Lots of other possibilities too, of course, but columns on open highways are vulnerable targets, yet very few attacks appear to have been undertaken, a few helicopters at most.

        • timbozone says:

          The last thing the Russian military wants happening right now is to be perceived as attacking Russian infrastructure and civilians, even incidentally. This would be a perception up and down the chain of command, even if it isn’t a specific standing order. “News reports and internet rumors” are generally not valid orders to regular military units. A rumor from Moscow is not a new, superseding order per se, not without confirmation from authorized chain of command. Unless a regular unit received an order permitting it to damage Russian infrastructure along the critical supply route to the Ukrainian front, it would be unlikely to do so on its own initiative.

        • Ruth Smith says:

          Rayne I am not good at posting – my apologies- the list includes a Il-22М11 air-borne command post aircraft

    • JAFO_NAL says:

      When he said none of “our” blood had been spilled I took that as referring to his own forces.

      • Kope a Pia says:

        I have seen video of a Wagner truck being destroyed by an air to ground missile, there is no chance the driver or anyone in that truck survived. It’s not news that Pregozhin lies as easily as Putin or Trump.

        • JAFO_NAL says:

          All true but he also was supposedly also using civilian trucks for transports. I can’t help but think what might have happened in the US had the armed forces been headed by someone loyal to Trump and if Mike Pence had capitulated on Jan 6th.

  11. JAFO_NAL says:

    Prigozhin didn’t become a Russian prison boss by being indecisive, hesitant, or meek. Once he shifted responsibility for Bakhmut to the MOD he needed a way out of an increasingly losing battle. With the threat of his forces being transferred to the MOD he saw no choice but to up the ante and use the turmoil to escape with his life and more forces and equipment than he started with. Belarus may now become his operational base and his bread baskets in Africa remain. But the chef should probably cook his own food …

    • RipNoLonger says:

      Seems a reasonable plan. But he was also supposedly deep in with Putin. Why couldn’t Putin have worked his dictator magic and ordered the MOD to back Wagner? Is there a division within the Russian military and perhaps within the MOD and other security organizations?

  12. swmarks53 says:

    I realize what I’m about to say is a bit crazy. There is speculation that Prigozhin is in danger because of the fact that Belarus is closer to agents who may come from Moscow to defenestrate him, or offer him some tea. But, and here’s the crazy part, being located in Belarus puts Prigozhin closer to Moscow (take the E30). What if he were to reassemble whatever forces he has combined with some segment of the Belarusan armed forces and march on Moscow from that vector at a time advantageous to Prigozhin? Such a setup would be of benefit to Lukashenko as well.

  13. JAFO_NAL says:

    Russian jets based in Belarus would probably act quickly. But being a sofa colonel, what do I know?

  14. subtropolis says:

    Throughout the series of angry statements from Prigozhin in recent weeks i’ve strongly believed that he had Putin’s blessing. All of the ranting was aimed at Shoigu, Gerasimov, and others responsible for the conduct of this military operation, but never Putin. In fact, he’d several times explicitly stated that those others were misleading the Russian president, and had repeatedly let him down. I think that this theatre has been about voicing deserved frustrations, as well as deflecting responsibility away from Putin.

    Some might say that, if this were the case, Putin himself ought to have been the one to be ranting like that. But he is no Donald Trump. He surely understands that such moaning and bitching to the public would make him seem weak. Having his psychopathic gangster do it instead seems like a safer approach.

    Even after the events of this weekend i am still somewhat in favour of this scenario.

  15. punaise says:

    Selected snippets from Josh Marshall quoting some experts:

    This was really a battle to keep Wagner independent from the Russian military proper, to maintain Prigozhin’s business, his power as an independent though subordinate military force in the Russian state structure. He was doing something dramatic to get Putin’s attention and get him to decide the matter in his favor.

    The key seems to be that he was in a way more successful than he anticipated. Most of the Russian Army is in Ukraine or near the Ukrainian border. What remains in Russia was either unwilling or unable to act quickly enough to stop his troops’ drive toward the capital. Kofman notes that Prigozhin appears to have had an intuitive grasp of the brittleness and weakness of the Russian state. But in this respect it was even weaker than he anticipated.

    Suddenly the entire domestic and global audience is debating whether Prigozhin will be able to “take” Moscow when his troops arrive. But he was never trying to “take” Moscow or become a new head of state. He was trying to stop the Ministry of Defense from taking away his company.

    Stanovaya doesn’t say this explicitly. But it occurs to me that if you’re someone like Putin, if you’re involved in a bloody spasm of urban warfare to defend your own capital, that’s the kind of situation where someone else might decide to push you aside, even if you’re “winning” that battle.

  16. bloopie2 says:

    Wow. I really needed a scorecard to follow the post! Seems like everyone involved has several degrees of connection to everyone else, with lots of alliances, side deals, understandings, etc. Is that unique to this group of countries, who not that long ago all flew one common banner? Or would I find that elsewhere also — for example, in the Middle East, or (in the US) between business and Dems/Repubs?

    • Rayne says:

      I really wish NNDB could help map relationship networks on demand if provided substantive supporting material from which to work. There’s all this content out there documenting these context-rich relationships in Russia, but almost nothing in the west depicting how they all mesh together. Frustrating, because I’m sure I’ve left huge holes and they’re blind spots. Where are the women, for example? You know they play some role but how and where?

      No idea where one would look in Middle East though it depends a lot on country, culture, and subculture.

      I’d look to NNDB for US business relationship maps first, those are much easier because you already know the country and culture.

  17. Doug_Fir says:

    Building on some of the recent comments I’ll suggest that Prigozihn’s rhetoric over the past few months, and Saturday’s muscle flexing, were part of the negotiations over the price of disbanding Wagner.

    Perhaps Shoigu wanted to capture some of Prizogihn’s business by bringing it into the regular forces, and Putin was happy to see Prigozihn’s private army get scaled back.

    Prigozihn wasn’t happy with the deal as offered and upped the ante.

    A better offer was made and he was satisfied.

    Another thought I had was that Prigozihn wanted something from the southern military headquarters that his forces took control of, and the rest was a distraction.

    One thing for sure, though: These guys don’t mind sacrificing thousands of lives to make money and gain the power to make more money. This wasn’t a “March for Justice”!

  18. JanAnderson says:

    We’re all a bit daft including myself in interpretation. I was reminded what Russia’s ‘view of normal’ is from exiles from it. It’s organized crime at the end of the day. Nothing is what it seems to be IOW.
    I have no idea how we begin to analyze that which we have no real time experience with, and I do not know how any media here in the “west” can either, apart from essays, historical and otherwise, that everyday people have no time for.

    Prigozhin is ‘Putin come lately’ . Not good news for Putin, or any of us for that matter.

    • Rayne says:

      This is one of the toughest challenges Americans struggle with when analyzing Trump’s behavior. We begin with the assumption he’s making rational decisions within a legal framework at least some of the time, and we’re constantly surprised when something he’s done is even worse than his last crime.

      Ditto when looking at the narco/petro mafia states. Their populations are inured to constant corruption — most of us in the US would never dream of paying bribe to have electrical service turned on, for example, but it can be the norm in mafia states.

      Which is why I laugh every time I see someone mention Prigozhin’s possible assassination by Putin, as if it would never occur to Prigozhin, a guy whose business is off the government’s books, to take measures in advance to protect his interests being wholly unfamiliar with mafia behavior.

        • RipNoLonger says:

          Oh, they’re reasonable. Both you and Rayne have pointed that out.

          Only that the structure of reason is not what most of us in the west think it is. Much of the world is run on a variety of rules that apply to some and not others. Think baksheesh/bribes/tips as the normal way of doing business.

          The US has just experienced a level of bribery/etc. that is explicit, not hidden. It is ongoing and will be hard to root out.

  19. MsJennyMD says:

    Thank you Rayne.
    Approximately, 39 of Putin’s critics have died. Is Prigozhin next? Will it be poison, a fall from a window, pushed down the stairs, kidnapped then shot, stabbed or airplane accident?

    Putin Quotes:
    “The worst thing for a politician is to try and cling to power by every possible means, and focus only on that.”

    “My notion of the KGB came from romantic spy stories. I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.”

    “One has to be insincere and promise something which you cannot fulfill. So you either have to be a fool who does not understand what you are promising, or deliberately be lying.”

    • JanAnderson says:

      I’m thinking how does the free world deal with organized crime on a whole country level that has set it sights on a whole other country.

      • bloopie2 says:

        I’d start with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, aka “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, 2005: “a bored upper middle class married couple surprised to learn that they are assassins belonging to competing agencies, and that they have been assigned to kill each other.” An on-again off-again duo, just like Vlad and Yevgeny. In the end, and regardless of good/bad, you can at least say that they are four people who are really, really good at what they do.

          • i00sam00i says:

            And the kicker… everyone is invested in the award winning first season, mid season break for season 2 and the headline actors hold out for more money and then the series goes to a new obscure streaming service and we don’t know how it finishes

            • Rayne says:

              Oh that, all of that…or it launches on HBO, gets spiked for tax purposes, its IP dusted off to be sold to Netflix when the tax cuts don’t actually produce profitability, Netflix faffs about getting IP sorted in a lawsuit (ex. Enola Holmes), then a key actor has a heart attack (ex. Better Call Saul), puts entire production on hold while they sort out a new lead (ex. The Witcher).

              And then everybody who was originally a fan has become so annoyed with the wait they won’t watch the series when it emerges.

  20. JanAnderson says:

    What is most hilarious is the notion that this is a geopolitical thing. I’d say it’s mostly a familgia thing at this point. Prigozhin spelled it out – the premise for Putin’s war in Ukraine is based on bullshit. They eat their own in the end so pay attention.

    • bloopie2 says:

      Yes. And, as Rayne notes one comment above, the streaming series is going to be awesome; this is great drama. Succession meets The OK Corral?

      • Rayne says:

        Oh, that and Chernobyl, with so much less heroism. All the late Soviet cultural factors which led to that disaster are still present.

        • Rayne says:

          Current events with strong dramatic elements often become the direct subject of or fodder for streaming series and movies.

          bloopie2 offered two examples of very popular drama series in which a toxic family is central (Succession on HBO) and an armed showdown is climactic (I think bloopie2 really meant the 1993 movie Tombstone which was based on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral), both of which contain elements we can see in the current Russian political conflict.

    • bmaz says:

      What in the living hell are you barking about? Don’t shout at the moon on this blog. Ever.

    • bmaz says:

      I’m sorry, where the fuck did you come from? At light speed, you are establishing yourself as an irritant. We already had enough of that, and do not need more.

      And, if you get gone, don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

      • JanAnderson says:

        An irritant? I’ve been a follower here for years.
        Sorry if I came out and said something. What did you think bmaz? lol

    • Clare Kelly says:

      Rayne wrote:
      “It will be quite some time before all the details fall into place to explain what really happened.”

      I don’t see that as ‘giving up’, rather as a pragmatic caveat to her essay.

  21. Rayne says:

    Seems a bit soon for this but tensions are high as are the stakes.

    nadin brzezinski @[email protected]
    A car exploded in Moscow…hmm.

    https://t.me/nexta_live/55558

    NEXTA Live
    ⚡️⚡️ Мощный взрыв машины в Москве Подробности скоро. @nexta_live
    Telegram

    Jun 25, 2023, 19:34

    Posted on Mastodon; embedded link is at Telegram, use with all due caution.

  22. Pick2orPass says:

    I’d been wondering if was about $$.
    Why sign everything over for free? Has Wagner been doing this all gratis? It kinda looked to me like someone wanted to get paid. But now they’re moving to Belarus, is it possible contract services ended from Russia are now being paid for by Belarus? Lukashenko and supporters are probably happy to have guard that will take orders and do things local military won’t do.

    [Thanks for updating your username from “Pick2” to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

  23. JanAnderson says:

    Wagner is paid. This is not a question of payment.
    You see Prigs? Cut from the same cloth as Putin.
    He talks the same talk of old but Putin rose above that shit years ago while Prigs still sees it’s advantage, alludes to ‘elites’ – Putin now among them. What we’ve witnessed is akin to mob family quarrels.

    • Pick2orPass says:

      Mob family disagreements can certainly be about money. I wonder how we can know who has paid (or is refusing to pay) Wagner for what, and what his accounts payable/receivable look like. When Prigozhin claimed his guys, all “getting bombed from the rear” it sounded like a rather ugly way to say a deal had gone sour by someone who also wants his piece. Walk thru that very danger to confront the customer? Why let up the bombing and let them pass? A simple talk over tea and an amicable deal reached later on and everyone goes home? Paychecks. I know I’ve had a contractor or 2 try to duck the phone calls when payment came due. Sometimes it’s the embarrassment of the situation, in the end, that causes someone to pay up.

      • JanAnderson says:

        That would be a reasonable assessment in our world, but we are actually discussing a very different world.

      • i00sam00i says:

        I think someone on the last thread (or maybe had linked to it) mentioned that the other way to view the raid in St Petersburg at Prigozhin’s residence as evidence of payment. Cash and gold is the payment, white powder is the “handcuffs” but also payment.

  24. JVOJVOJVO says:

    What if it is all a ruse to get Belarus/Lukenshenko to accept Prighozin/Wagner into their country under reasonable circumstances and helping Putin. lol. Arguably, Putin now has his chef cooking inside Belarus where who knows what kinds of things he may cause.
    What if it’s all an operation?
    It all smells too good to be true for me!
    We’ll know if / when:

    A. Belarus -> Ukraine
    B. ????

  25. Tracy Lynn says:

    Here is what Ruth Ben Ghiat has to say about the situation: https://twitter.com/ruthbenghiat/status/1672982515097763850

    “Hello to all – in case it got lost in the shuffle yesterday, I’ll repeat my point that autocrats don’t pardon people who have staged uprisings against them, esp. autocrats who have been killing dozens of elites since war started for one or two critical remarks.”

  26. JanAnderson says:

    Prigs not only exposed Putin’s corruption, he laid bare his bullshit premise for invading Ukraine. Prigs said what the ‘West’ has been saying all along and that is an unforgivable sin.

    • Rayne says:

      “laid bare” is really key here. The guy who ran the Internet Research Agency couldn’t rely on using the internet in Russia to get whatever point he wanted to make across to the Russian public. He went old school instead by making a physical demonstration to puncture media lock in.

      I don’t know that Prigozhin was really trying to say Putin’s premise for the “special military operation” in Ukraine was bullshit, though he’s said as much on camera. He may be implying in saying so that he’s fed up with putting his personnel and resources through a meat grinder when he could be billing them out on other more profitable missions — but in doing so he’s validating the West’s opinion.

  27. Brian Ruff says:

    In my paranoid mind I smelled bullshit that Prigozhin was going to Moscow to make sone sort of “statement”; no, if you’re going to Moscow, it’s to take out the boss because you sniff a power vacuum.
    You’re not going to Moscow and then stopping, you’re going to see it through.
    So the fact that he stopped hints to me that he had a very good reason for stopping, possibly a personal reason, since all crime bosses like to deal with problems on a personal level
    So what, or who, did Putin have on Prigozhin to make him stop?

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. “Brian B Ruff” is your second user name; you’ve published comments here as “Brian Ruff.” Pick a name and stick with it. Thanks. /~Rayne

    10:20 a.m. — username fixed. /~Rayne]

    • Brian Ruff says:

      For some reason the edit function did not allow me to edit the name

      [I’ll fix it for you, no problem. The edit window only allows 4 minutes for editing, you may have missed that window. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  28. Rwood0808 says:

    Based on the logistics alone I have to go with failed coup attempt. The hoarding of ammunition, the speed of which they deployed after the obviously staged strike on their troops, the lack of any resistance to their movements toward Moscow, and the propaganda buildup in the weeks ahead, all support that.

    But Prigozhin is military, so he made contingency plans in the event things didn’t go according to plan.

    A coup within a family always involves someone close to the don, someone who can take him out at just the right moment and allow the coup leader to step into that vacuum and claim the position of power. Whoever that someone was they backed out/were caught/were killed at the 200-kilometer point. At that point it was over.

    So now the coup leader pulls his get-out-of-Lefortovo card and runs for the safety of a friend. One who was a key part of the coup. One who suddenly felt the irresistible urge to vacation in Turkey, whos president was oddly quick to praise the target of the coup.

    The target of the coup has no choice but to placate the coup’s troops until they are no longer a direct threat. Once that is accomplished he can then take his time dealing with the family who betrayed him.

    Prigozhin and Lukashenko are now both enemies of Putin, as are several of his inner circle who I’m sure he will be “questioning” soon. A large group of dead men walking.

    Where Prigozhin lands next will be telling. Also the movements of his family.

  29. Ravenclaw says:

    Thank you for this, Rayne. The Dyumin connection is important, and I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere. You may have hit the nail on the head with that one.

    • Rayne says:

      Kevin Rothrock shared a tweet/post about it today, with video in which Dyumin is answering questions. Just a matter of time.

  30. pdaly says:

    It is not clear to me whether Prigozhin remained in the Rostov-on-Don HQ the entire time of the stand off while he sent his troops north towards Moscow Friday night. If yes, did he use the lives of the generals he found at the Rostov-on-Don as a bargaining chip?

    Alternatively, if Prigozhin participated in the caravan streaming north from Rostov-on-Don, to be within 200 miles of Moscow he would have driven at least 10 hours according to Google maps estimates.
    Assuming Prigozhin turned around at the time the agreement was reached (by 1:30 pm Saturday local time), he would be 10 hours’ drive away from Rostov-on-Don. At what time was Prigozhin filmed leaving Rostov-on-Don Saturday night?

    • Rayne says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen that; the original sources on which Telegraph relied for its reporting have also had content pulled from Russian media related to this threat.

      Let me point out this is from the same intelligence services which have fucked up in Ukraine nonstop since before the invasion, likely unable to tell Putin what’s really going on. It’s in their best interests to make it look like Prigozhin stopped and left for Belarus because of their threats.

  31. Ravenclaw says:

    ISW reports (based on Meduza) that “Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Office Anton Vaino, and Russian Ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov” were involved in the negotiations & that Dyumin is a likely replacement for Shoigu.

    Must say of Dyumin: As a former chief of Special Operations Forces now employed as the equivalent of Westchester County Executive, he’s likely to be angling for a more exciting and prominent job.

    https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-25-2023

  32. Stephen Calhoun says:

    Thanks for the observations and speculations here.

    Guy Faulconbridge, for example, reported for Reuters on May 26, 2023, that ‘Russia moves ahead with deployment of tactical nukes in Belarus,’ (headline.)

    On June 17, the BBC reported Russian tactical nukes are in western Belarus.

    On June 24 Reuters’ headline: ‘Russian mercenary boss Prigozhin to move to Belarus under Wagner deal, Kremlin says.’

    From my amateur’s armchair, these are unrelated events. However, some questions are begged about exiled Wagner forces in Belarus in the context of this territory also being a new home to Russian tactical missile forces. There were very few—really minimal—casualties involved during the incursion and mutiny.

    Incidentally, how many WMC are there worldwide? What size was the fast moving convoy last week? (Various numbers have been tossed about. Brigade? Larger?) How many WMC have left their positions in Ukraine? What is the expected size of Wagner’s forces in Belarus?

    • ButteredToast says:

      Don’t know the answer to most of your questions, but as to the last, this seems relevant. According to Meduza (https://meduza.io/en/news/2023/06/26/belarus-begins-building-camps-for-wagner-group-fighters):

      Independent Russian publication Verstka reports that Belarus has started building camps for Wagner Group fighters. The camps will be located in the Mogilev region of Belarus, approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the border with Ukraine, and will be able to accommodate 8,000 fighters.

      • Rayne says:

        I’ll wait for more evidence of camps before I take reports of camps as credible, knowing Wagner group already use Belarus regularly.

        Mogilev oblast shares a border western Russia; its capital city is about 370 miles/595 km from Moscow, with two main highways between them. The distance is roughly half that from Rostov-on-Don to Moscow.

        • ButteredToast says:

          Yes, more evidence would definitely be needed to confirm the existence of camps (or whether the Wagner mercenaries in Europe will even be housed in one place in Belarus).

    • Rwood0808 says:

      The same answers I’m looking for today.

      I hesitate to trust the “Nuc’s in Belarus” story as the sources seem to be all Kremlin. I don’t see Putin putting that much power in the hands of someone else.

      As for the number of troops on the highway to Moscow I’ve seen figures ranging from 8k to 25k, but then numbers don’t mean as much as how well they are armed and what type of vehicles they are driving. Manpads are the key to this.

      If Belarus is already constructing camps for the Wagner troops it only adds to the “this was a coup” idea and we’re now seeing the contingency plan of it failing. BUT, the target was Putin, so they have no choice but to try again (or wait for a Novichok sandwich)

      How does one get ready for Coup Attempt II?

      1. Withdraw all Wagner forces from Ukraine to Belarus/Africa. Base them in the south but have them facing northeast.
      2. Base myself, my family, and my fellow coup leaders in the only NATO country that is sympathetic to me.
      3. Rebuild my network inside Russia while also striking a deal with Xi, who has parallel interest in both Russian and African resources. Remove Russia as a third-party winner in any upcoming wars.
      4. Wait and watch the red army destroy itself in the Ukrainian meatgrinder while I train and arm my army in preparation for a second attempt on Moscow, this time launched from Belarus.

  33. Peterr says:

    From the statement posted in the update:

    I want to point out that our march of justice showed a lot of the things that we talked about earlier. Serious security problems throughout the country. We blocked all the military units of the airfield that were in our way. In 24 hours, we covered the distance that corresponds to the distance from the launch site of Russian troops on February 24, 22 to Kyiv and from the same point to Uzhgorod.

    Therefore, if the action on February 24, 22, at the time of the start of the special operation, was carried out by a unit in terms of the level of training, in terms of the level of moral composure and readiness to perform tasks, like the Wagner PMC, then perhaps the special operation would last a day. It is clear that there were other problems, but we showed the level of organization that the Russian army should correspond to.

    This is a well-crafted dig at the Russian military high command, from the Minister of Defense on down. To the extent that Putin chose to send regular Russian troops, rather than Wagner mercenaries, it’s also a dig at Putin. He’s saying “What we did on Saturday, all Russian troops should be able to do. Now think about how differently the Special Military Operation would have gone, had we led it . . .”

    • Rayne says:

      The problem with that, though, is that Wagner was supposed to assassinate Zelenskyy and he’s still giving nightly addresses to his people as of Day 487 of the “special military operation.” If they couldn’t knock off one man and they couldn’t take Bahkmut without turning it into dust first, how would they have taken Kyiv.

      Of course we don’t know if the assassination assignment was common knowledge inside Russia.

  34. ButteredToast says:

    A NY Times article from yesterday contains this bizarre description provided by a “Belarusian government propagandist” of the call between Lukashenko and Prigozhin. It’s reminiscent of the language Trump uses in his “sir” stories (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/25/world/europe/belarus-lukashenko-russia-wagner.html):

    The conversation between Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Prigozhin was “very difficult,” said Mr. Gigin, who this month became the director of the National Library of Belarus. “They immediately blurted out such vulgar things it would make any mother cry. The conversation was hard, and as I was told, masculine.”

  35. Koshina says:

    I have to say as a long time “hobbyist” Russia monitor who understands the relationship between Putin and Lukashenko/Belarus and how they’re kind of a two republic URSS in a way, this has been fascinating for me. It was disappointing but not surprising to see many bad hot takes from the media coverage, especially when this end(?) to the “insurrection” first happened. I also remember how some months ago Luka was all “notice me sempai” and clearly wanting some western attention,so I keep thinking that WHATEVER it is that’s actually going on he must be super…*cough* excited,shall we say to be talked about on American news channels.

    I’ve also been thinking about how Prigozhin is not just the war criminal leader of the Wagner terrorist group but also the creator of the infamous IRA troll factory. Let’s not forget that the “translator desk” stuff from the Muller Report and indictment was just part of what that place did. I might be wrong here, but when I was watching the whole “takeover” of Rostov-on-don and the charge to Moscow I kept thinking like this was partly a huge version of one of the IRA created and sponsored fake Trump-supporter events from 2016.

    Full disclosure, as a Ukrainian-American I have to say that while I understand the seriousness of what’s going on here I also have really enjoyed watching this shitshow in Russia. I can’t imagine how this will end but I still feel like both Prigozhin and Putin both thought they were doing one thing, then lost control of what actually happened and ended up with something different than what they were after. I just hope in 20 years I’ll be able to enjoy a pile of FOIAd docs from NSA/DIA/CIA to see how much intel actually had an idea about and if their hot takes were accurate. I of course only mean that as an admirer and researcher of Western 3-letter agencies, not some kind of MAGA or vatnik who thinks this was some kind of NATO op against Russia(frankly both ridiculous and not even something that would be in our interest). Biden was very smart to let this play out without comment, there’s no need to unintentionally give Russia any fuel to use for their disinformation.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. SECOND REQUEST: Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; you last commented as “Koshenya.” Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Interesting observation about Lukashenko; I’d only seen references to him recently before Prigozhin’s march because of the tactical nukes moving to Belarus.

      He’s going to have to try harder to get western attention because this is nothing compared to Zelenskyy and Ukraine:
      https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?geo=US&q=%2Fm%2F014kb2,%2Fm%2F0163v&hl=en

      Prigozhin sure is putting his marketing chops to work. You’d think he’d had some experience running a political campaign. LOL

      • ernesto1581 says:

        Lukashenko was hospitalized with a “critical illness” May 10th, May 29th and then again June 8th. Tsikhanouskaya among others claims he had been poisoned by the Kremlin for being insufficiently supportive of Putin’s “operation” which Lukashenko seems to have soured on, given that there seems no endgame anywhere in sight. Tactical nukes from Moscow were delivered to Belarus June 14th.

        One does wonder how secure Lukashenko’s hold on power remains. For two months now, Polish Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak has been talking up a possible, perhaps inevitable, uprising taking place in Belarus for which, he says, Poland needs to prepare. Meanwhile, 4,000 German troops are shortly to be permanently stationed on Poland/Belarus border, according to German defense minister Pistorius.

        • Rayne says:

          I wondered why Lukashenko had made some crack in the last 48 hours about an ugly Polish rumor. This explains it — he’s feeling itchy about the possibility of a coup in his own backyard.

      • Koshenya says:

        Yeah,that’s not possible,and not just because many straight women and probably about 3x more men than would admit it think Zelenskyy is super attractive. Luka just doesn’t have the “it” factor to get attention. Of course Zelenskyy’s become known worldwide for good reason and not just media hype.

        I don’t remember what or why this happened, but I do remember either an interview or press conference type thing where Lukashenko was obviously trying to show that he was an important world leader who should have more influence and coverage. It’s not like dictators have been known to crave attention more than zoomers on Tiktoc or anything. I’m one of a certain kind of “social media influencer” on Apartheid Clyde’s birdapp that supports Ukraine and goes after Russian trolls,you know? Some of us are Luka watchers for both serious and meme reasons, so whenever he does something notable I often find out about it through our intellectual discussions about Russian allies and their activities.

        Your comment about Prigozhin gave me an idea. Since it looks like he’s thinking about being the next leader of Russia, I would think he could use a campaign manager who learned how to use Western campaigning to put a mob boss turned poitician in office. I wonder if Konstantin Kilimnik would be interested in the job?

        • Rayne says:

          I wonder if Konstantin Kilimnik would be interested in the job?

          Bwahahahahaha sksksks whew! Too funny. But seriously…this entire situation looks like a very dark political campaign unfolding. If we’re really watching different mafia families fighting for turf, there may be a PR person in the right family who’d be interested in the gig.

  36. theartistvvv says:

    One thing I thought odd in the statement was, “During the day we covered 780 kilometers.”

    That would be 484.7 miles.

    That’s an average of about 40 miles an hour over 12 hours, about 20 miles an hour over 24 hours – seems rather fast for armor and trucks, and doesn’t count re-fueling time, *etc*.

    • Rayne says:

      In both directions, with part of the Wagnerites headed to Moscow and part headed to Rostov-on-Don — that’s how that much ground could be covered.

  37. Koshenya says:

    Hi Rayne,sorry about the usename, it was unintentional not sockpuppteing or anything. Koshenya is a rominization of the Ukrainian word for kitten, I’m(unfortunately) just starting to learn the language both properly and even just being familiar with it(my ancestors were defectors so it obviously wasn’t spoken at home since my parent didn’t grow up with it either). I forgot the “preferred” way to write this in English. I’ll make a screencap or text myself to remember this.

  38. Vinnie Gambone says:

    If i were Priggy, I’d make a move to take the nukes in Belarus.
    Also. suprised they didn’t help themselves to supplies from bases in Rostov.
    That is not very Russian of them .
    They turned back when they learned there was no Trump Hotel in Moscow as they had been promised.

    More seriously, wonder how many of those on the march were from the areas they were marching through. Russian and even Wagner soldiers faith in their leaders may likely be beginning to resemble that of us soldiers in Nam in 1970.

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